Black women lead the way in entrepreneurial businesses

Emogene Mitchell spent two decades in the cocoon of a multinational research institute, rising to vice president in charge of events planning. Then the economy tanked, and the workload shriveled.

In the heart of the Great Recession, Mitchell was ready to join the soaring number of minorities and women who are starting their own businesses and are expected to fuel much of the job growth over the next decade.

During a meeting on cost-cutting last year, Mitchell, who is African American, told her bosses they should axe her position and replace her with a contractor — Mitchell’s Meetings and Events, the company she runs out of a home office in Arlington County with her husband, La Mont. Her old firm is now one of her main clients.

In the years preceding the recession, the ranks of minority and female entrepreneurs exploded, according to census statistics released Tuesday. By 2007, minorities owned one in five small U.S. businesses, and women owned almost one in three.

The latest census statistics are encouraging to Harry C. Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. When the organization started in the 1990s, the census said 300,000 black-owned firms were doing $30 billion in business a year. In 2002, 1.2 million black-owned businesses had $89 billion in sales. The latest figures show 1.9 million firms with $137 billion in sales.

“The growth is phenomenal,” said Alford, the grandson of a sharecropper and son of a truck driver. “When you write your own signature on both sides of the check, you start building wealth. I think America’s getting better.”

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